I’m lying in bed, still fighting the last remains of jet lag, and I can’t stop thinking about my last trip. I finally got to see with my own eyes the country where everything is ‘BIG, AND GREAT’, the United States of America!
Mine was not a business trip strictly dedicated to a US audience, but it was a trip to the biggest conference (what did I tell you?) in the world on higher education and internationalization: NAFSA Annual Conference. This year it has taken place in Philadelphia, medium-sized city on the East Coast.
Thanks to this conference, I got to meet people from literally every corner of the globe, in just one big expo room! It’s been a precious gift to my wandering soul, and I will write about how to handle big conferences very soon. However, now’s time for my USA memories!
The city and the people
Once up the One Liberty Observation Deck, a tour guide came to us to explain the landmarks visible from there. I asked him “What do you like the most about Philadelphia?”. He thought about it for one second, then replied “I used to live in New York (which, by the way, is just 2 hours away from here) but I came back. It was just too much, it doesn’t have a human element anymore. Philadelphia is perfect: the business center is right in the middle, nice houses and buildings around it, and then nature, rivers, parks.” This is exactly how the city feels: a historical place, with hip stuff going on, never losing sight of its citizens.
I must mention, though, two things that I did not like. There are a lot of homeless people everywhere in the city. It seems that it is very easy to lose your luck, and your life, in the US… And surprisingly enough, it is pretty evident that all the low-end jobs are still reserved to the African-American community. From janitors to 7/11 assistants, I have not seen one white person in such positions. But what struck me is that they are in a constant, exceptional good mood! Not only do they help you more than you asked for, but always share a joke to make you smile. And when you leave, they say “God bless ya”, I guess that’s just a cultural thing… 🙂
The business side
Be ready to be very polite, and very direct. When it comes to chitchat, Americans are crazy fans of empty compliments and indiscreet personal questions. When it comes to business, they want you to cut to the chase and be as straightforward as possible, so that they know exactly where they’re putting their money. The US is also the best place on earth to brag about your achievements: do that with discretion (or not), Americans will appreciate it and see it as noble professional accomplishments to honor.
Napoli & Italy
Not sure about Italians, but Neapolitans are certainly what I call ‘the Americans of Europe’. Great salespeople, very talkative, incredibly loud and dramatic! I must say I did not feel homesick. And regardless of what others say, in the USA the emphasis is always on the ‘people’, on the ‘community’, with the few exceptions of metropoleis. At least in Philly people are definitely ready to help you out whenever you need it, just like in Napoli. I remember this sentence coming out of the speakers a the airport while I was reaching my terminal: “Our greatest strength is our people”.